Transforming scientific research and development in precision agriculture : the case of hyperspectral sensing and imaging : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor in Philosophy in Agriculture at Massey University, Manawatū, New Zealand

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Massey University
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There has been increasing social and academic debate in recent times surrounding the arrival of agricultural big data. Capturing and responding to real world variability is a defining objective of the rapidly evolving field of precision agriculture (PA). While data have been central to knowledge-making in the field since its inception in the 1980s, research has largely operated in a data-scarce environment, constrained by time-consuming and expensive data collection methods. While there is a rich tradition of studying scientific practice within laboratories in other fields, PA researchers have rarely been the explicit focal point of detailed empirical studies, especially in the laboratory setting. The purpose of this thesis is to contribute to new knowledge of the influence of big data technologies through an ethnographic exploration of a working PA laboratory. The researcher spent over 30 months embedded as a participant observer of a small PA laboratory, where researchers work with nascent data rich remote sensing technologies. To address the research question: “How do the characteristics of technological assemblages affect PA research and development?” the ethnographic case study systematically identifies and responds to the challenges and opportunities faced by the science team as they adapt their scientific processes and resources to refine value from a new data ecosystem. The study describes the ontological characteristics of airborne hyperspectral sensing and imaging data employed by PA researchers. Observations of the researchers at work lead to a previously undescribed shift in the science process, where effort moves from the planning and performance of the data collection stage to the data processing and analysis stage. The thesis develops an argument that changing data characteristics are central to this shift in the scientific method researchers are employing to refine knowledge and value from research projects. Importantly, the study reveals that while researchers are working in a rapidly changing environment, there is little reflection on the implications of these changes on the practice of science-making. The study also identifies a disjunction to how science is done in the field, and what is reported. We discover that the practices that provide disciplinary ways of doing science are not established in this field and moments to learn are siloed because of commercial constraints the commercial structures imposed in this case study of contemporary PA research.
Permission has been obtained for the re-use of Figure 9 in an electronic thesis.
Precision farming, Research, Technological innovations, Agriculture, Remote sensing, Big data, New Zealand